The Endless Sunny

Photo by Jack GouldBefore you read the following "art review," be forewarned that I am not a trained "art critic," I seldom go to "museums," I don't possess what the intellectuals refer to as "good taste," and I seldom use "utensils." But as the old clich goes, I know what I like, and, slob I may be, I like the works of painter Drew Brophy. A lot.

Wonder if he'd take that as a compliment? It's meant as one. His paintings amuse me with their pop-culture influences, which mirror my own lifeline. I see Big Daddy Roth's freaks—drawings and figurines of which my big brother left for me to crawl over and partially ingest as a toddler in the '60s. I see psychedelic rock-poster art from my grade-school years. I see subtle nods to ancient mysticism and blatant nods to all things tiki, our latest rehashed New Age obsessions.

Little did Brophy know he already had me with his eye-catching tropical oranges, Day-Glo yellows and agua-like aqua blues.

Warm? Fuzzy? Cartoonish?

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"The Big Show" at the Surf Gallery in Laguna Beach features Brophy's recent works for show and sale. He's a self-taught artist who started painting surfboards; some sticks are propped up in racks in the center of the tiny gallery. A three-board mural hangs on the wall, but at $1,000, you probably won't be tempted to pull one down and ride it at the jetties.

Brophy has said he still prefers painting surfboards to canvas, but his banker might beg to differ. The artist's lithos sell in the $65-to-$125 range, and paintings on various materials fetch up to $2,500. If that sounds too steep for surfer 'toons, keep in mind the higher-priced items often include really cool bamboo frames. Score!

Roth's influence is most evident in Alien for the Illumin8Skate (mixed media on masonite). A green E.T. with one big bug eye rides a skateboard down a winding yellow track supplied by his saucer hovering above. Recalling the posters you'd find for Bill Graham concerts at Fillmore West during San Francisco's hippie heyday is Pipemasters (mixed media on wood). The words "Pipeline Masters"—in psychedelic font—extend downward to create an oval frame that resembles driftwood and tropical foliage and encircles a scene in which a surfer, with his chest pushed out proudly, rides toward a distance shore. You can barely make out a surf-contest crowd on the beach as the orangest of orange suns fills the sky, its rays jutting out like bicycle spokes.

Some works here were previously covered by Weekly art critic Rebecca Schoenkopf a few years back ("Mother Ocean," Sept. 29, 2000), including Sushi Dinner (giclee print on canvas), in which a mythical sea god opens his big mouth with sharp white teeth to swallow up an ocean filled with menacing fanged fishies snacking on smaller fishies, unaware they're all about to become a fishy dinner.

My female companion at "The Big Show," who had not previously seen Brophy's work, noticed me smacking my lips to Sushi Dinner, leaned over and whispered into my ear, "Too cartoony."

Come now. Brophy is not suffering to reflect the human condition, lopping off one of his ears to get hung in MOMA any time . . . ever. But he's earning large, he has surfed the world, he lives near one of his favorite surfing beaches (the nudie one in San Diego!), he has a no-doubt-slamming wife (chicks dig the surfers, chicks dig the artists, and chicks really dig the surfer artists earning large), and he's bouncing a cute-as-a-bug grom on his knee. Not bad for a former board painter. You'd be eternally sunny, too.

The only evidence I could find of a truly darker side were in his abstracts, Blue Wave and Blue Abstract Tube (mixed media on canvases). They are looks inside monster waves by a surfer who probably did not ride them out. Nothing sunny or cartoonish here. Black bases are covered with the darkest blues on Brophy's palette, with Blue Abstract Tube incorporating a strings-of-bulb-shapes that resemble links on a thick steel chain.

But even when the yin hits the yang, Brophy's sunny side always wins out. In the Surfer's Paradise litho, that orangest of orange suns and its bike-spoke rays illuminate the aqua-green surf, which is fixing to go all Poseidon Adventure on an isolated stretch of beach. No worries: a blond surfer sits at water's edge, staring blankly at the incoming tidal wave, his trusty yellow surfboard at his side, wetting his toes as his footprints lead back to a little grass shack. There are worse ways to go.

Drew Brophy's "The Big Show" at the Surf Gallery, 911 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9155. Open Sat.-Sun., noon-6 p.m.; and weekdays, by appointment. Through May 15.

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